A Talk with Allan Baudoin of Baudoin and Lange

Allan Baudoin is a London-based bespoke shoemaker. He is also one half of the team behind Baudoin and Lange, the ready-to-wear offshoot of his bespoke atelier which focuses on production of the “Sagan” loafer. Baudoin and Lange is led by Allan Baudoin and Bo van Langeveld. In this article, Allan answered our questions about what led him to shoemaking as a young man, what he loves about it, and about his work at large – both as a bespoke shoemaker and with the Baudoin and Lange brand.

This article has been edited for length and clarity.

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Styleforum: On the Baudoin and Lange website, you go out of your way to mention that both of you come from backgrounds not related to shoemaking or even to menswear. How have these diverse perspectives influenced the growth of Allan Baudoin Bespoke and Baudoin & Lange?

Allan Baudoin: My “background” is in computer science and business. I did not train in shoemaking formally, but had to learn everything on the spot under the pressure of building a name and an income for me in the early days – this means that mistakes are only made once, and you get to touch a lot more of shoemaking than under an apprenticeship.
I had to quickly learn to manage artisans and make decision that went beyond my formal knowledge. In the end, intuition plays a great part in making shoes – that and experience – and luckily I instantly “clicked” with the craft and everything around it. For the first time, I was working on something that felt very natural for me, and I got better at the craft with each iteration to reach the level of knowledge required to launch into RTW with Baudoin & Lange.
Bespoke and RTW use different parts of the brain; a lot more planning is involved as volumes grow, but you always need that bespoke “practicality” to come up with innovative elements and ways of doing beautiful work with nothing. I think one important factor in the growth of B&L is the complementarity of the skills I have with Bo. We are the inverse of each other, and that works very well for running a business. Bo comes from a finance background, having worked in private equity, and is an ex-competitive driver. I don’t have a license, so that tells you a lot about how different we are. In the end, the best decisions are reached by compromise between our two mentalities.

SF: Are there aspects of bespoke shoemaking that you were intent on keeping in your RTW line, or that lended themselves particularly well to your project? Similarly, were there aspects of the bespoke process that you knew would not translate – or even be detrimental – to an RTW line?

AB: I think the lines and aesthetics of my RTW work are very similar to my bespoke, and I did transfer (and improved) on some bespoke shoemaking techniques from the latter to the former – such as brass nail decoration which is now on every pair we make as our logo.allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview
Of course, some aspects of bespoke have to be systematized to become viable for a RTW line. We still hand-last each pair entirely and close the shoes entirely by hand, but obviously some aspects – like blocking insoles by hand – make no sense in RTW. However, our insoles are still blocked and shaped to the last before lasting, so they do curve around the last – which is rare in RTW.
Many techniques that I learned in bespoke I removed on purpose from the RTW project of Baudoin and Lange. For example, a bespoke shoe has hard counters and toe puffs, uses calf and lining – our Sagan loafers are unlined and unconstructed,  which means they are very easy to fit compared to a normally constructed shoe. This translates into extreme comfort from the first use – by removing something akin to traditional bespoke shoemaking, you end up with the exact same result, and a very large part of our clients are bespoke shoe buyers.

SF: I’ve heard that before starting your shoemaking line you briefly worked at Apple, and referred to your time as “disillusioning.” Even so, are there aspects of working with a large company that you miss, or lessons you learned during your time there that you think are applicable to your current life as a shoemaker?

AB: That’s indeed true, you must have heard this from an early interview probably quite soon after I had left the corporate life and was working from a tiny 10-square-meter workshop out of east-London. I think I was really not wired to work in the kind of spaces and environment that most large companies offer. As a shoemaker, I probably did not take away anything from working in an office, but as a designer and new company owner I do owe a lot to my previous background in computer science and business school.
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I’ve always been inspired by Apple design and manufacturing principles. The amount of design work and lack of compromise that the ideas go through from inception to execution without being dropped is hugee, because at Apple only great design ideas make it to the finished product. The vision comes from the user experience designers and hardware designers first; the manufacturing team is there to make it happen no matter how hard or how much work has to be put in. It makes everything easier when the product is perfected beyond the competitions’ standards. I think that’s something we try to emulate at B&L – some features our customers need to have in their shoes – and we find ways to incorporate them, sometimes by going very different routes than what a standard shoe company would do.

SF: What was it about shoemaking in particular that appealed to you? Were there other crafts you found equally enjoyable?

AB: I’ve always wanted to know how shoes were made. I think that for me, this is the craft that uses the most of my strengths – touch and the eye. Touch, because it all starts with leathers, and to use the proper kind in the right application takes a lot of gauging, of imagining the properties of the piece you’re holding and figuring out how best to use it for this or this other purpose. The eye, because everything is always in progress while making shoes, and your eyes guide you through the many steps. There is so much checking involved when making shoes, and nothing works faster and better than a trained eye. Being observant is something one is born with, and for some reason I think I’ve unintentionally or intentionally scanned every person’s shoe I have ever seen since I can remember. It is so incredibly rare to see someone with beautiful shoes that fit them – it’s about knowing what works for you.allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview
Now that I know shoemaking (to a satisfying level, in my opinion), I start to see other crafts as more attainable – and now I want to make too many things! I got to know tailoring a bit from how close our industries are related, but I’ve never been fond of working with soft fabrics. I don’t know why, but how fragile and flimsy they seem to be to work with is something I can’t cope with.
I really like sanding and finishing things at the moment, and so the things I d like to learn for myself one day would probably be watch case making and knife making. I love both watches and knives so that would be useful things to make for myself and I same as for shoes, there are no watches design that I really crave in the market so perhaps I could do something there. For me, all crafts have become more and more fascinating and they all connect at some level. I feel really at home with makers; we have a common language I think.

SF:Can you tell us about the process by which you became involved with the London shoemaking scene? What drew you to the art? How long did it take you to think: “This is what I want to do?”
AB: It took me approximately one week to decide that I wanted to do this. I really just came out of nowhere, I knew nothing about shoemaking or making anything actually – but when I visited a shoemaker close to my apartment in East London everything changed. I was in a mental place at that time where I felt I could do anything, and that anything goes as long as you enjoy it (I had just come back from going to Burning Man in the desert of Nevada, so that did leave an impression on me, the way everybody there was sharing their “trip” to the fullest with absolutely no regard to judgment about it. There, anything goes; everybody comes to share what they are about and in such a beautiful and generous way that it is hard to describe in words what the experience is like.
allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview I knew absolutely no one in the industry or even in anything related to it, I was introduced to makers by going from workshop to workshop thanks to my laster, and I went on to discover every aspect of the craft by myself by spending time with artisans.
Then, the shoes that I had made at first for me, then my friends and my 1st and 2nd degree network, found their way to a wider audience thanks to social networks.  I did get to talk and meet people who really knew a lot of industry people – first in mind is meeting with Simon Crompton [of Permanent Style] – a guy I had no idea I’d get along with so well. I was not even a reader of any blogs before I met him for lunch one day with no other purpose than to say hi and talk shoes and craft (which seems the way we connect with anyone in this little world of ours). I really have to thank Simon for his help in getting the word out, he introduced my work to everybody he knew. Mark Cho [of The Armoury] has also been incredibly helpful and supportive from the first day he ordered shoes from us.

SF: It appears that the Sagan loafer began as a bespoke or MTO project. How did that come about? 
AB : The Sagan indeed came from the atelier, when I was in the need for a pair of easy to slip-on, all-day comfortable pair to wear around the workshop while making bespoke shoes. My clients and some industry people around me soon took notice and started buying them.
Actually, a lot of tailors and cutters on Savile Row were among my first customers because of how comfortable they are to wear in the workshop while standing, and how well they served and looked in front of customers – perhaps their patronage helped put them on the feet of the right people at the beginning. I still get emails from people telling me that their tailor has recommended them. Today we are stocked in a lot of specialized shops that carry great tailoring brands.

SF: Why did you want this to be your first RTW shoe, and why build an entire brand behind it? How do you see it being worn?

allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview AB: The idea is of a versatile, extremely comfortable loafer that can go with as many environments as possible in one pair of shoes; from evening wear to summer wear, home use, travel and every day use at the office.
I felt the Sagan really deserved to have an entire brand built around it, because the concept is a new and innovative one – it just needs explanation and focus. At B&L we only make Sagans, and that is how much we believe in the concept. This laser-focus on one product translates to quality of craft and service.
I think the product is very innovative for the industry and for the luxury shoe market in general. I think we’re creating our own space instead of finding a gap in the market. It takes time, but I don’t see other brand or makers as competition – I never have. Every pair is different in use, and I feel no other shoe can replace the Sagan.

SF:Baudoin and Lange is a very accessible brand. Many shoemakers go the other direction – why choose accessibility over exclusivity?

AB: Bespoke shoemakers choose exclusivity by default, because the way a bespoke shoe is made is simply not focused on price sensitivity or lead times. That makes the product very expensive and hard to get which is the definition of exclusivity. I do like the idea of a very small number of aficionados enjoying and recognizing the work that goes into my bespoke shoes – it is a passion that connects us.
However, I really don’t think a great product like the Sagan would benefit from such an approach. Our goal is to put as many great looking, comfortable shoes on the feet of people as possible, not just for a select few who can afford it. Many retailers have told us we could charge double what we do but that’s simply restricting ourselves to a smaller market for no real reason.

SF: Can you describe a bit of the “flow” of the creation and production process? I’m aware that you have several partners in the pattern-making and construction processes – can you walk us through the creation and production of a new shoe for the Allan Baudoin line? Does this differ for the Baudoin and Lange line?

AB: I have a pattern maker, a clicker, a closer, two lasters, and a finisher and we all work really well together. I’d say an AB and a BL shoe start exactly the same way and go through the exact same initial process, but the AB goes to only one customer and uses only one skin of leather, whereas the BLs have to made for a lot more people, which requires many more steps.

It all starts with the last. I usually make lasts myself from “unturned toe” wooden lasts, meaning the toe is left wide and rough, while the heel to the joint area are made to the specific measures I give my last “factory” in France.

A first last is made to do the pattern making. This last and pattern will most certainly be modified a few times to accommodate changes I want to make, which happen constantly – I think the Sagan pattern was remade at least 50 times to accommodate changes in leathers, lasts, insoles, and other tweaks.

allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview Parallel to that is the work in sourcing and tanning the leathers we use for soles, insoles, uppers, fitting, bindings, and other pieces – they are all made to our specification and color ways that I have chosen over time. I never use ready-made colors or articles (leathers have countless specs) – you just can’t ask a tannery to have the best taste in color or substance and texture.

I will usually spend a lot of time with my pattern maker and closer when making Sagans (a lot of the work is in the stitching of the upper and the fine design details of each variation), and with my lasters for MTM/Bespoke, as these are always made with different sole types and construction methods. I always quality check every shoe, bespoke and Sagan alike, that comes out of the atelier, to make sure they are made as well as possible. This also allows me to spot problems and constantly perfect the shoes.

Every batch we make is always better than the last one, as I tend to always spot new “imperfections” we can improve upon. I think the Sagan range is now very close to perfection, but we always come up with new things, so it is a never ending process. Perfection does not exist, only the perception of perfection – for a trained eye nothing is perfect. I’m pretty sure you could ask any bespoke shoemaker if they are happy with their last work, and they will say “No” regardless of how perfect it looks to the outside world. We know exactly how good the shoes are, and that’s just never good enough. This is, I believe, the drive (and the curse) of the shoemaker.

SF: You’re still very young – do you feel, now, that you’ve found your niche in shoemaking? Or do you still have a bit of the restlessness in you that took you away from your first career path?

I am always restless. I have found a passion and obsession in shoemaking, and I have built a lot around it both personally and professionally. I intend to keep evolving and see where that takes me. I am always interested in all kinds of crafts and topics related to our industry, so you never what will come out of this!

allan baudoin interview stylefourm baudoin lange styleforum interview

The Rise of the Shoe Enthusiast

Something is happening in the world of shoes. Or rather, in the world of quality shoes. It’s not a tidal wave, but then again, few things are when you’re dealing with classic menswear. It’s more like a small trickle that’s turned into a steady stream of obsession. It started out with a few enthusiasts and their newfound interest in this ancient craft, then merged with the new-ish ability to connect through the internet, and found a home at a place in time where appreciation for tangible, luxurious objects is higher than it’s been for decades.

I’m a Swede, so naturally my perspective is mainly Swedish, but at the same time I think what’s happening over here may be at least mildly indicative of a global trend. In 2012, Skoaktiebolaget (a fine men’s shoes store and Styleforum affiliate) opened the doors of their brick and mortar shop in Stockholm, not only to the Swedish market, but to an international market that was just about to boom. I remember my initial reaction as being: “Is it a viable business idea to sell premium shoes in a city as small as Stockholm, when the price of a pair of shoes may very well be as high as some people’s monthly wages?”

Rise of the Shoe Enthusiast My friend Jussi wearing a pair of handcrafted from shoe artist Mario Bemer

Apparently, the answer to this question was a resounding “Yes!” And they didn’t just appeal to a market consisting of the financial jet set. A fairly newfound appreciation for workmanship, construction and leather quality had – and has – flourished among enthusiasts from all walks of life. Students saved up on their bursaries to be able to buy a pair of MTO’s from Carmina, maybe a first step down the slippery slope towards top-name makers in the business, such as Gaziano & Girling, St. Crispins, John Lobb, and others of their ilk.

Rise of the Shoe Enthusiast A picture I took in Skoaktiebolaget’s former store. They have since moved to a much bigger location, on one of Stockholm’s most popular addresses

I’ve heard some people attribute the success of Skoaktiebolaget to a fortunate timing of exchange rates between the US Dollar and the Swedish Crown, where the Dollar became very strong in comparison, and gave the US customer base a chance to buy European premium shoes at a very competitive price.

In my opinion, this is an oversimplification. I think Skoaktiebolaget managed to tap into something that’s more complex than basic economics. Exchange rates and a fairly steady Swedish economy can explain some of the business, but it can’t quite explain why the interest for artistic, well-crafted crafted shoes of the highest quality keeps going up, for an ever-growing number of men from widely-differing demographics.

My layman’s guess is that it has something to do with the times in which we’re living. A lot of people are stumbling around, trying to make sense of things. Economic markets don’t behave according to old predictable patterns of booms and recessions in perpetual cycles (in fact, nowadays booms and recessions can even exist simultaneously). Digitalization of practically every type of business has created a longing for something tangible, something lasting, as opposed to the ephemerality of the internet. Hence the reemergence of old crafts, hence the appeal of products that will not only last a lifetime if treated properly, but actually grow more beautiful with age, hence stores like Skoaktiebolaget.

With an everyday reality that currently feels increasingly volatile, the idea of long-lasting, quality products seems more attractive than ever. The re-popularization of Goodyear- and hand-welted shoes has naturally drawn the interest of people who see a gap in the market for quality shoes, where price is a boundary that still keeps a major part of an untapped market out. When I tell uninitiated people about the cost of even one of my “cheaper” pair of shoes, they look at me with an understandable amount of skepticism. Some of them could probably afford several pairs of Lobb’s every month, but the idea of paying these amounts for shoes, or clothing for that matter, is still a high threshold for the majority of men to step over.

However, there’s plenty of room for growth. One Swedish brand that has capitalized on this idea is Myrqvist Shoes. Swedish company Herrstil decided to launch their own brand of good year welted shoes with a good price/quality ratio, so they started a Kickstarter campaign and managed to even exceed their original funding goals. The idea was simple, they cut off all the middle men and went straight to the factory and suppliers of raw materials, and then offered the shoes directly to their customers without the added retail-margins. Other companies have used similar business models to get into the coveted “budget price market” (in reality this is still a premium price for most people). For example, Styleforum favorite Meermin sells Goodyear-welted shoes at a very competitive price, much due to their business being mainly online, and because they can do self-funded MTO-shoes for small groups of customers.

Rise of the Shoe EnthusiastWearing a pair of Chelsea boots from Myrqvist

Naturally, there are also makers catering to buyers who want nothing but the finest in shoemaking – the bespoke shoemakers. Gary Tok (@Gazman70k) recently wrote a book on this subject, called Master Shoemakers: The Art & Soul of Bespoke Shoes (also available at affiliate The Hanger Project). In this book, Tok sets out to capture the allure and beauty of bespoke shoemaking. The book consists of beautiful photographs, accompanied by written portraits of the different shoemakers. These are men whose shoes have more in common with art than with commodities. They are the masters of their trade, most of whom still do everything as they have always done it. If I were to make a wild guess, their business is more resistant to fluctuating markets and predictions of recessions than most shoe makers’. They make a product that attracts the sort of clients who don’t splurge on loud items to showcase their wealth, but rather the sort of clients who appreciate the craft and see their purchase as a good investment.

Master Shoemakers: The Art & Soul of Bespoke Shoes rise of the shoe enthusiast gary tokSpread from Master Shoemakers: The Art & Soul of Bespoke Shoes. Picture courtesy of Skoaktiebolaget.

The connection between the new entrepreneurs on the welted shoe market, and the old craftsmen and artisans may not seem like an obvious one. But, a merger of these two worlds could actually be the future of the trade. Not only in the manner that welted shoes in the lower price tiers are “gateway drugs” for future bespoke customers, but also in the general idea of how the most traditional makers will be doing their business.

The World of Shoes, yet another Swedish company, has set out to be a bridge between some of the less attainable shoemakers and customers from all around the world. The concept is rather unique, at least when it comes to shoes. They run an online editorial platform, on which they write about classic shoemakers, and they also have a market place, where people can buy some of these shoes. This, at least, takes away the geographical barriers between the traditional shoemakers and their potential customers.

rise of the shoe enthusiastHannes Rebas, editor at The World Of Shoes, talking to Olof Nithenius

Who knows, with the development of 3D scanning/printing and other technological advances, the next step may actually be to be able to produce proper bespoke without having to physically meet your shoemaker. I’ve talked about these, and other kind of developments with my friend & bespoke shoemaker, Norman Vilalta, and he embraces the advantages new techniques bring to the table. If his benevolence towards this evolution in traditional shoemaking is embraced by the next generation of makers, I’d dare say the future looks bright for this craft.

rise of the shoe enthusiastSpanish shoemaker Norman Vilalta in focus

rise of the shoe enthusiastFernando, Vilalta’s business partner, shows us around their trunk show in Florence last month

Erik is co-founder of EFV Clothing. You can find him on Instagram at @ErikMannby